3D Printing Metal Powders

Table of Contents


3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), utilizes metal powders to construct complex components layer by layer directly from digital models. The powders are selectively melted or bound by precision heat sources guided by the CAD model geometries.

Popular AM processes for metals include binder jetting, directed energy deposition, powder bed fusion, sheet lamination, and more. Each requires powder feedstock with specific characteristics to achieve optimal density, surface finish, dimensional accuracy, and mechanical properties.

This guide provides an in-depth look at metal powders for 3D printing, including alloy types, powder production methods, key powder properties, applications, specifications, suppliers, and purchasing considerations when sourcing material. Helpful comparison tables summarize technical data to assist with powder selection and qualification.

Connecting with knowledgeable suppliers of optimized 3D printing powders enables manufacturers to improve print quality, reduce defects, and fully leverage AM benefits like design freedom, faster iteration, and part consolidation.

3d printing metal powders

Alloys for 3D Printing Powders

A wide range of metals and alloys are available in powder form suitable for AM processes:

Common Alloy Systems for 3D Printing Metal Powders

  • Stainless steels
  • Tool steels
  • Titanium and titanium alloys
  • Aluminum alloys
  • Nickel superalloys
  • Cobalt-chrome alloys
  • Copper alloys
  • Precious metals

Both standard and custom alloys can be sourced to meet specific application requirements in terms of corrosion resistance, strength, hardness, conductivity, or other properties.

Metal Powder Production Methods for AM

Additive manufacturing utilizes metal powders produced through:

Typical Metal Powder Manufacturing Methods for 3D Printing

  • Gas atomization
  • Water atomization
  • Plasma atomization
  • Electrolysis
  • Carbonyl iron process
  • Mechanical alloying
  • Metal hydriding/dehydriding
  • Plasma spheroidization
  • Granulation

Spherical atomized powders provide optimal flow and dense packing needed for most AM processes. Some techniques allow nanoscale or customized alloy particles.

Key Characteristics of Metal Printing Powders

Critical powder characteristics for AM include:

Metal 3D Printing Powder Properties

CharacteristicTypical ValuesImportance
Particle size distribution10 to 45 micronsAffects densification, surface finish
Particle shapeSphericalImproves flow and packing
Apparent density2 to 4 g/ccInfluences bed density
Tap density3 to 6 g/ccIndicates compressibility
Hall flow rate25-50 s/50gEnsures smooth powder spreading
Loss on ignition0.1-0.5%Low moisture improves printing
Oxygen content<0.1%Minimizes microstructural defects

Precisely controlling characteristics like particle size, shape, and chemistry is critical to achieve fully dense AM parts with the desired mechanical properties.

Applications of 3D Printing Metal Powders

AM enables complex geometries impossible through conventional techniques:

Metal 3D Printing Applications

AerospaceTurbine blades, structuresDesign freedom, weight reduction
MedicalImplants, prosthetics, instrumentsCustomized shapes
AutomotiveLightweighting prototypes and toolsRapid iteration
DefenseDrone parts, protective structuresQuick prototypes and short runs
EnergyHeat exchangers, manifoldsPart consolidation and topology optimization
ElectronicsShielding, cooling devices, EMIComplex enclosed structures

Lightweighting, part consolidation, and high-performance alloys for extreme environments provide key advantages over traditional manufacturing methods.

Specifications for 3D Printing Metal Powders

International specifications help standardize AM powder characteristics:

Metal Powder Standards for Additive Manufacturing

StandardScopeParametersTest Methods
ASTM F3049Guide for characterizing AM metalsSampling, size analysis, chemistry, defectsMicroscopy, diffraction, SEM-EDS
ASTM F3001-14Titanium alloys for AMParticle size, chemistry, flowSieving, SEM-EDS
ASTM F3301Nickel alloys for AMParticle shape and size analysisMicroscopy, image analysis
ASTM F3056Stainless steel for AMChemistry, powder propertiesICP-OES, pycnometry
ISO/ASTM 52921Standard terminology for AM powdersDefinitions and powder characteristicsVarious

Compliance with published specifications ensures repeatable, high quality powder feedstock for critical applications.

Global Suppliers of 3D Printing Metal Powders

Leading international suppliers of AM-optimized metal powders include:

Metal Powder Manufacturers for 3D Printing

SupplierMaterialsTypical Particle Size
SandvikStainless, tool steel, nickel alloys15-45 microns
PraxairTitanium, superalloys10-45 microns
AP&CTitanium, nickel, cobalt alloys5-25 microns
Carpenter AdditiveCobalt chrome, stainless, copper15-45 microns
LPW TechnologyAluminum alloys, titanium10-100 microns
EOSTool steel, cobalt chrome, stainless20-50 microns

Many focus on fine spherical powders specifically engineered for common AM methods like binder jetting, powder bed fusion, and directed energy deposition.

Purchasing Considerations for 3D Printing Metal Powder

Key aspects to discuss with metal powder suppliers:

  • Desired alloy composition and properties
  • Target particle size distribution and shape
  • Envelope density and hall flowability
  • Allowable impurity levels like oxygen and moisture
  • Required testing data and powder characterization
  • Available quantity range and lead times
  • Special handling precautions for pyrophoric materials
  • Quality systems and powder origin traceability
  • Technical expertise in AM-specific powder requirements
  • Logistics and delivery mechanisms

Work closely with suppliers experienced in optimized AM powders to ensure ideal powder selection for your process and components.

Pros and Cons of Metal 3D Printing Powders

Benefits vs Limitations of Metal Powders for AM

Allows complex, customized geometriesHigher cost than conventional materials
Shortens development time dramaticallyPowder handling precautions required
Simplifies assemblies and lightweightsPost-processing often needed on as-printed parts
Achieves properties nearing wrought materialsSize and build volume constraints
Eliminates expensive dies, molds, toolingThermal stresses can cause cracking and distortion
Enables parts consolidation and topology optimizationLower production volumes than traditional methods
Improves buy-to-fly ratio greatlyRequires rigorous powder characterization and parameter development

When used appropriately, metal AM provides game-changing benefits but requires expertise to implement successfully.

3d printing metal powders


How small can metal powder particle size be for AM?

Specialized atomization techniques can produce powder down to 1-10 microns, however most metals printers work best with minimum size around 15-20 microns for good flow and packing.

What causes poor surface finish in printed metal parts?

Surface roughness arises from partially melted powder adhered to surfaces, spatter, staircase stepping, and suboptimal melt pool characteristics. Using finer powders and dialing in ideal processing parameters smoothens finish.

Do all metal 3D printing methods work with the same powders?

While there is overlap, binder jetting generally uses a broader powder size distribution than powder bed fusion. Some processes are limited to certain alloys based on melting points or reactivity.

How are mixed or bimetallic powders made?

Prealloyed powders ensure uniform properties but for composites, physical powder blending or specialized atomization techniques provide blended elemental powder mixes.

How long does it take to change powder material in a metal printer?

A full purge and changeover between significantly different alloys requires 6-12 hours typically. Quick changes between similar materials can be under an hour.


Optimized metal powders enable additive manufacturing processes to construct complex, robust metal components with superior properties. Matching alloy chemistry and powder characteristics to the printing method and component performance requirements is critical to high quality results. By partnering with experienced powder suppliers, end users leverage expertise in both powder production and 3D printing processes to develop robust AM components faster and more reliably.

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